Thank you, Mr Welles

Reblogging this personal tribute to Orson Welles from 2013. Not many of you will have seen it before.

beetleypete

Orson Welles is considered by many to be the greatest film maker in history. I do not necessarily agree with that, although I do consider him to be one of the greatest actors of all time. His voice alone is worth a career, let alone his charismatic presence in a film.

As a very young man, I was captivated by him on film at the cinema, and on TV, when his films were shown there. His brief appearances in ‘The Third Man’, lift the film totally, and his wry grin steals every scene that he is in. Whatever you might think of him, his talent is surely indisputable, and from an early age, he showed the touch of genius that would characterise his life in cinema. The ensemble cast of his best known films, ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’, and ‘Citizen Kane’, was to follow him throughout his all too short film…

View original post 426 more words

Virus Deaths: One Story

I read something on a local newspaper website earlier this week. I went back to get a link to add here, but it has been taken down. Presumably to save the family from more distress.

We are all reading about deaths from the virus, all around the world. As the numbers get bigger, they stop becoming people, and are just numbers. I read that 1,000 people have died fom the virus in the USA. Can you imagine seeing 1,000 dead bodies laid out in a line? I once saw more than 20 bodies at the scene of a train crash. It looked like a lot of bodies. And I was an EMT, so used to seeing such things.

1,000 bodies arranged in a line would stretch almost 3,000 yards. That’s 1.7 miles. That distance would take almost 30 minutes to walk, at a normal pace. Hard to comprehend, I know.

So let’s just think about one person who died because of this virus, and the impact on his family.

A local man in his fifties had a mild heart attack last year. He had a stent procedure to open a coronary artery, was put on blood-thinning drugs, and sent home. He went back to work as normal, and returned home to his wife and two twenty-something children who still lived at the house. Just over a week ago, he woke up with a very high temperature, so stayed off work. The next day he had a very bad cough too. Covid-19 was suspected, and the call was made to the family doctor. That doctor decided to send an ambulance to take the man into the emergency department of the local main hospital.

He had to travel without his wife and family of course. They were not allowed to get close to him as he was taken to the ambulance, so no goodbye kisses. Then because they were in a house where those symptoms were found, they all had to self-isolate. Calling the hospital that night, they were told that he was ‘seriously ill’. The next day, someone called them to tell them he had died.

Imagine that. No goodbyes, no last moments together, no chance to comfort the man she had been married to for thirty years.

The funeral was just 24 hours later, a cremation arranged by a local undertaker. The family was informed that only ten mourners could attend. But as they were self-isolating, they were not allowed to go. Any relatives or friends that might usually have attended did not want to travel during this crisis. So the man was cremated in an empty facility. The undertaker sent a bill, adding that they understood it would be some time before payment could be made. The ashes would be sent to her in due course.

That’s it. Thirty years together comes down to three phone calls, and it’s all over.

Then the everyday problems begin. To get an official death certificate, you have to attend the appropriate department at the Town Hall, with the initial certificate given to you at the hospital. But you are self-isolating, and are not allowed out. Even if they could go out, the office is closed because of the lockdown of workplaces. And you would not be allowed into the hospital to collect their form, as you were too close to someone who died from Covid-19.

Without that death certificate, you cannot access the man’s bank account or savings. Cannot cancel his credit card, or any other payments still going out of his account. You cannot make a claim on his life insurance, sell his car, or do a dozen other things that have crossed your mind will need doing.

On top of your grief, you have to deal with all that stuff too.

Then there is the worry. What about me? What about the chldren? Will we get it now? You can’t seek comfort from relatives and friends either, because you are not allowed out. Anyway, it wouldn’t be a good idea, even if you were.

In the last 24 hours in Spain, 832 people died. Imagine that story above, mutiplied by that figure.

That’s the reality. Are you scared yet? You should be.

Yes still, social media is showing people, mostly young people and teenagers, who think it is funny to spit on food in supermarkets, or rub their saliva over the handles on public transport. Parcel delivery people spitting on parcels that they then hand to a recipient, idiots licking toilet seats, some deliberately touching things in shops then replacing them, and even claiming that Covid-19 is a hoax, and doesn’t exist. Some of those videos have been shared over half a million times, watched by giggling youngsters who think it is all a great joke.

Try telling that to the wife of the man who died near here this week.

McDonald’s: The Last Bastion Falls

Rutland is the smallest county in England. Only 17 miles long by 18 miles wide, it is land-locked, and has a population of less than 40,000.

It has just two towns of any size, Oakham and Uppingham. The most significant feature of the county is a huge artificial lake, Rutland Water. This is a nature reserve, and an important site for wildlife, especially breeding birds.

But Rutland is also famous for something else. It is the ONLY county in England that does not have a McDonald’s restaurant. The attractive historical streets of Oakham and Uppinham do offer a selection of cafes and restaurants, as well as many privately-owned traditional shops. But no fast-food outlets have ever been allowed to spoil the area.

That might all change, at a local Council meeting this evening. On a site just outside the town of Oakham, the burger giant has requested planning permission to build a 24-hour drive through restaurant. One of the larger types that have been seen here over the past couple of years. The benefits to the community are more than being able to buy some chicken nuggets at two in the morning. In an area of high unemployment, sixty new jobs will be generated, and valuable taxes paid into the local economy by the American company too.

Poorer families in the area will be able to take advantage of ‘meal deals’ and cheaper fast food, without having to drive into neighbouring counties to do so.

The population of Rutland appears to be divided by the issue. Existing cafes and restaurants will undoubtedly suffer, especially in the long term. Rubbish will be generated by thoughtless customers flinging it from car windows, or dumping it around the town. And it is inevitable that other jobs will be lost in eating establishments that cannot compete with the popularity of McDonald’s.

As I type this, it seems likely that the Town Council will approve the application tonight, and building will start. I would not deny that the town needs jobs, or that people should be able to buy a Big Mac if they want one.

But I am sad. Sad that the smallest county in my country, the only one to have never approved a McDonald’s, has finally succumbed to globalisation.

Alexa, Google, and Cookies: The frightening reality

I don’t have a ‘digital assistant’. But my wife used to have ‘Google Assistant’ active on her phone. She liked that it allowed her to ask her phone a question, without having to type it in.

Many people love their ‘Amazon Alexa’, using it to do many things in their lives, especially to remind them of appointments or dates, or to play music.

We all know that ‘Cookies’ trace what we search for online, and most of the sites we browse on the Internet. We can refuse to allow Cookies in the main, though that will often mean you are unable to look at something, for example a news website in full.

In our modern society, many people complain about the intrusion into our lives. Excessive CCTV, tracking of credit card use, tracking of bus and train ticket use, and much more. Unless you walk everywhere, and keep all your money in a box under your bed, you can be sure that your habits are being tracked, like it or not.

But the ‘digital assistants’ take this to another level, and in my opinion, one that should cause us all concern.

Here are two examples of why I believe this to be true.

Earlier this week, we were watching TV in the evening. My wife’s phone was connected to the home wi-fi, but she wasn’t using it at the time. It was sitting on a side table, the screen black. During a break in the programme, she turned to me and started to talk about what had happened in the first part. Just general chit-chat, nothing too private. The screen on her phone lit up, and she picked it up, presuming someone was calling, or sending a text.

She was shocked to see that her phone was typing what she had been saying. She turned to me and said, “It’s typing everything I have just been talking about”. As she said that, it continued to type those words too. She went into settings, and disabled Google Assistant. The phone didn’t like that, and popped up a warning that ‘You will be unable to access many features of your phone if you do this”. If it could have spoken those words, I have no doubt it would have sounded very much like the voice of Big Brother, in the film of Orwell’s novel.

Once it had been uninstalled, she was unable to find where it had stored what it had been typing. Her words had disappeared into the Great Google Hard Drive, somewhere in America, presumably.

This morning, we were unpacking a parcel. It was a buggy and car seat combination that we had ordered for my step-daughter’s new baby, due in two weeks. As we struggled with the huge carton, my wife’s phone rang, and it was her daughter. A happy coincidence. They switched their phones to the Facebook equivalent of face-time, and she was shown the cartons laid out on the carpet. As they carried on chatting, I went back into the office room to continue checking on blog posts.

I had been reading one from Lobotero, concerning ISIS and Iran. Scrolling down to the end, an advertisement popped up at the bottom of his site.

It was for the exact same buggy and car seat combination. The same model, and the same colour. Stupidly, it suggested I should order one, and even offered a discount voucher. Perhaps they thought I would buy two of them, for one baby?

Of greater concern was the fact that Facebook had obviously been monitoring my wife’s phone camera activity on their site. In less than forty seconds, that had generated an large advertisement on the website of an unconnected American blogger, directly targeted at me.

If they can do that, I have to wonder what else they can do.

Things I don’t like

Back on the ‘Reblogging Trail’, I found this old post from 2013. Only three of you have seen it, I think.
I was quite outspoken back then! Look how much I have calmed down now. 🙂

beetleypete

I saw a bit of a TV programme called Room 101. Minor celebrities compete to get things they hate put into ‘Room 101’ by the host, symbolising the removal of those things, on a permanent basis. It is supposed to be funny, and it isn’t at all. However, it got me thinking about things that I would like to ban, or make disappear, and here is a short list of them.

Centre Lane drivers. On a three lane motorway, there are always drivers who insist on never moving out of the middle lane. They usually drive quite slowly, or just on the legal limit, making it hard for slow lorries to get out of the left lane, or for other drivers who have overtaken them, to move back in safely. Even when there is no traffic, say during the early hours of the morning, they still hug this middle lane…

View original post 1,663 more words

Whac-a-mole

Another post reblogged for new followers. Some of you will remember this one. My candidates haven’t changed since I wrote this, but feel free to add your own choices in the comments. 🙂

beetleypete

Whac-a-mole is a fairground/arcade game that involves hitting toy moles with a mallet, as their heads pop up out of the five holes on the game’s surface. For a better description of this, please see the following Wikipedia link; that is if you are not already conversant with the general idea.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whac-A-Mole

I have a different concept of my version of this game, call it a fantasy, if you will. In my version, the machine would be large; large enough to accommodate humans. It would sit in a cellar, or shed, somewhere out of earshot, and away from prying eyes. Inside, would be the people that annoy me the most. The smug, the self-important, the self-satisfied, swollen of ego, and enjoying undeserved reputations. Those that think that they really are ‘it’, and that their music, or skills, or humour and personality are beyond criticism. They believe that what they have…

View original post 568 more words

Techno fear

Another old post from 2012, lamenting the addiction to technology, and the controlling practices of the major electronics corporations. It only had one like and comment, so nobody should remember it. 🙂

beetleypete

There is something sinister about the way that Technology creeps up on you. One day, life is going on as normal, and the next, you can’t remember how to use a telephone box, or even know where to find one. I can almost remember the last time I made a call from a public kiosk, queuing patiently, until it was free to use. Then, in what seemed an instant, I had a mobile phone in my hand, and I have never used a public box since; though I still had a phone card in my wallet, until very recently.

Can any of you remember what life was like before mobile phones? Imagine breaking down in your car, on a country road, late at night, in an unfamiliar area. You had to walk for an unknown time, until you could find a telephone box to use, to summon assistance. You also…

View original post 998 more words

Just been watching…(93)

Bird Box (2018)

***No spoilers***

As I have recently gained access to Netflix, I thought I would try out some of its ‘exclusive’ films. This film has had mixed reviews, mostly bad ones, but I wanted to see for myself. It was free after all, and I could just turn it off if I didn’t like it. I started the film with limited expectations. Never a huge fan of Sandra Bullock, and I have seen almost every ‘Post-Apocalyptic’ thriller going. But John Malkovich was in it, so it had to be worth trying.

The film begins close to the end, and flashes back to how we got there. I don’t mind that construction, though you have to be alert to the words ‘Five years earlier’ appearing on screen. If you turned away as that popped up, it may initially have been a little confusing.

There has been a worldwide disastrous event. People have been ‘seeing something’ and it causes them to immediately commit suicide, in any way available. In the flashback segments (they appear early on, so are not spoilers) we see deliberate car crashes, various people jumping out of windows, and others using everything from guns to solid objects to kill themselves. Most of these are very well done, leaving the viewer shocked and surprised. There is little or no explanation as to what might be causing this phenomenon, but one constant is that people ‘see’ something, and when they do, they kill themselves by using whatever means are available.

Bullock plays the lead role of Malorie, a gifted artist, and a pregnant single mother. After the disaster makes its way to North America, she eventually finds refuge in the home of a man unaffected, discovering a mixed group of other people who are also sheltering there. From this point, the film takes the turn into a familiar ‘siege’ scenario, with the terrified group avoiding contact with outsiders, and bickering among themselves. But we are made aware that people must protect themselves by never looking outside. When they do venture out, they must all wear blindfolds, or cover their eyes. Failure to do this for even the shortest time means that they will see whatever it is people see, and kill themselves seconds later. For our benefit, the action flashes forward five years, so we get to see how Malorie is progressing later on. Then it returns to the dire situation the group finds itself in.
Without any spoilers, that’s more or less all I can say.

“Drum roll”.

I actually liked it! Despite everything I had read that put it down, this film had real tension throughout, and every cast member took it very seriously. The ‘blindfold world’ is a neat idea, and the difficulties of existing when unable to look at anything felt authentic. Set pieces were suitably dramatic, but use of CGI was limited, and that made things feel ‘real’. Deciding not to show ‘the monsters’, was a solid choice, leaving us with a sense of unease about what could actually be out there. In fact, we could make up our own ideas about the unseen force that is attacking mankind. Bullock was intense, but she always is. Malkovich was great, just being his usual villainous self, and everyone else seemed to fit in nicely. British actor Tom Hollander relished his short but very effective role, lifting the latter segment of the film completely. As Sandra is fifty years old, choosing her to play a first-time mum was a bit of a stretch, but so what.

And the Bird Box of the title? They discover that birds sense the presence of the ‘monsters’. By keeping them close, in a small box, their agitated cheeping gives early warning of impending disaster. Not unlike taking canaries down a mine. Nice touch.

What makes me laugh

I’m quite a serious person. I think too much, (especially on Sundays) then write about what I think. I have strange dreams, then write about those too. I look back on my life. often living too long in the past, and I complain about the weather. A lot.

But I do have a humourous side, and things do make me laugh, often out loud. But I don’t laugh at people falling over. I certainly don’t laugh at Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, or Eddie Murphy. I rarely laugh at sitcoms on TV, particularly American ones, and when people tell me that so and so is ‘hilarious’, I generally look blank, and wonder what they are talking about. But there are people who make me laugh, and shows that I laugh at too.

Eddie Izzard

Father Ted

Peter Kay

Sarah Millican

Dad’s Army

Woody Allen (As a stand-up)

Just a snapshot of some things that cheer me up to watch. Non-British readers may need some help with the regional accents. If so, please request a translation in the comments. 🙂

Just been watching…(64)

Dark Places (2015)

***No spoilers***

When a film I have never heard of pops up as a TV showing, I usually check out some reviews or listings to see if it is something I might want to watch. But as this was described as a ‘Mystery thriller’, and starred Charlize Theron, I taped it on the PVR anyway.

Considering it had escaped my film radar completely, this film has a lot going for it. For one thing, it is set in Kansas, not California or New York. The dingy backstreets of Kansas City, and the arid-looking farmlands of the wider state make a refreshing change from the norm, and something very different for someone used to seeing familiar American (or Canadian) locations. (OK, it was filmed in Louisiana, but what do I know? I was happy to believe it was Kansas.) I should say from the start that I later found out this film went straight to video/cable, and received mostly very bad reviews. So, here we have a film with a deceptive location, no cinema pedigree, and bad reviews. Why did I watch it?

The simple answer is Charlize Theron. She tackles her role as Libby with dedication, little or no make up, and wearing a baseball cap and jeans. Nervy, aggressive, often foul-mouthed, she is not a character you might warm to, but I did. Nicolas Hoult (the boy in ‘About A Boy’) co-stars as the amiable geek who wants her to face her past demons, and unravel the secrets that have long tormented her.

The story concerns a family ‘massacre’ many years earlier. Libby survived, and her older brother was convicted of killing her mother, and both her sisters. The crime got a great deal of attention, and Libby became an eight year old celebrity, with a ghost written book about the event, and donations from well-wishers that have enabled her to live without working ever since. She is reclusive, a hoarder, has no friends, and little contact with the outside world. But the money is running out, and she is approached by a young man who wants her to examine her memory, and reveal what really happened on that fateful night.

The film is told in two distinct parts, with flashbacks to the events inserted into the modern day investigation. Each of the main characters is shown as a teenager or child, so there are two casts, including a convincing and watchable Chloe Grace Moretz as a wild teen involved with the older brother. As Libby begins to question her recall, she investigates the statements given at the time, and travels around to find those involved, all now adults. Her memories change with each encounter, and we see the differences in flashback sequences.

The film throws in some amateur satanic worship, and the usual drunken, shiftless and mostly absent father, with a nod to press sensationalism of crime. The mother is broke, with her farm not making any money, and the bank threatening to foreclose. The older brother may or may not have sexually abused young girls (but not his sisters) as well as murdering most of his family, and Libby has never visited him in prison, not once. All things we have seen before of course.

Mostly, I thought it was well done indeed. Maybe I am easily pleased, but I don’t think that’s it. I was never confused about which time period the film was in, or which cast members were playing the grown up versions of the younger characters. Theron was as good as ever, and the final reveal of what actually happened that night was totally unexpected, at least by me. On the downside, there is a distinct lack of any real tension that you might expect from the genre, and Hoult’s role seems rather pointless, other than to introduce doubt. Also his acting is stiff, and by the numbers. But I have seen a lot worse films that had much better reviews, I can assure you of that.